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Author: Alex

A Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

A Guide to the Midi-Pyrénées: Part Une

Growing up as one of three girls meant that family trips were anything but calm. Someone would be breathing too loudly in the car, someone would be sitting too closely to someone else or a mass riot would ensue if a sister was seen wearing another sister’s dress/shoes/anything that wasn’t their own.

Nowadays we’re mature adults and Shannon and I are so cordial to one another you might find it hard to believe that I ever broke her nose when we were kids. Twice. But those turbulent times are over and now we are more than capable of surviving a short holiday together especially when that holiday involves eating our way through the villages of southern France and taking lots and lots of pretty photos.

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So with that confidence in mind, we decided to take a quick trip to France last month to stay with our aunt and uncle who have spent the last 10 years converting an old barn in to the most beautiful chateaux by the Pyrénées (trés middle class, I know). As they are fairly rural we decided to hire a car and after an hour long process (why do I always get the employee who has just started the job the day before?) we finally hopped in to our beautiful Toyota Aygo that just about fit us along with our carry-on bags.

The French drive on the right hand side of the road which made for an interesting journey to our uncle’s house. It took a few attempts to leave the airport (and Shannon couldn’t even bring herself to look out the window when we eventually joined the motorway) but we made it in one piece to maison de Donnelly in the late afternoon. After we were hugged and my uncle commented on the rental (“that’s some wee yoke there” – typical Irish man review), we were shown around their humble abode which wasn’t so humble and moved me to real-life tears. They have managed to create a home that is warm and still so full of character, each room decorated with gorgeous French vintage market finds at prices that made me shed even more tears. I immediately promised myself that I will be a regular pest of theirs for as long as they would have me.

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My aunt Bronagh is an incredible cook and once we were settled, we sat at a table overlooking the sunflower fields (am I making you sick yet?). The food was glorious and the wine even more so. We sat chatting until Shannon and I could barely speak with tiredness so with heavy heads we retreated to our beautiful bedroom to sleep in our beautiful beds. Turns out we are still kids at heart and we fell asleep in the same bed, talking until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. 

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On our first morning I trotted down to the village to get croissants for breakfast because that is what one does in France. We planned our route for the day over our crumbs and then set off for Fanjeaux, a little hilltop village with views for miles. The rain decided to show up for the first hour or two but I was ferocious in my cheeriness that the rain would soon clear off. I’m one of those travellers that vehemently believes that rain should never dampen sprits but really all that it does is convince my fellow traveller that I’m a bit mental (picture me in the pouring rain with a manic smile screaming “WE ARE HAVING FUN, AREN’T WE?!).

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Fanjeaux is an old Cathar town with old medieval walls surrounding the Dominican chapel. It was beautiful despite the drizzle with plenty of cobbled streets to get lost in (or do circles like we did). It was so quiet and felt a little eerie in places because we hardly saw a soul save for a few damp tourists. We didn’t stay too long because we didn’t have an umbrella but it’s a place I would love to go back to on a clear day.

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Luckily for everyone the skies cleared as we were headed to Limoux and as the clouds parted we could spy the Pyrénées in the distance. The valley between Fanjeaux and Limoux are covered in vineyards which makes it a little difficult to be the chief/only driver. The area is famous for a sparkling wine called Blanquette which is sold by the vineyards alongside the road or in all the local shops. If Shannon had have been driving I would have been making a pitstop at every vineyard but being the ever-responsible big sister I stuck to caffeine and saved the wine tasting to the evenings when I could guzzle guilt-free back at the barn.

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As we approached Limoux we could see that it didn’t quite have the same charm as Fanjeaux. It was a little busier and there were plenty of roadworks which don’t really scream rustic tranquility. However there is a lovely square there which was perfect for soaking up the delayed sun rays and drinking the first coffee I have ever actually enjoyed. After years of trying to like coffee (and failing), it seems all it took was a mocha in Limoux to win me over. I feel more grown up than ever now.

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After a charcuterie feast which was mainly eaten by moi, Shannon and I dawdled back to our car crossing over a very pretty bridge with fantastic views across the river. On our way we dodged a few lengthy gazes from French men who we soon discovered were unashamedly comfortable with staring. Oh how different they are to the typical Irish fella who would look anywhere but the woman he is interested in for fear of coming on too strong…

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Back in the wee Aygo we made our way to Mirepoix with a quick stop off in Luc-sur-Aude. Oh my, this drive was so spectacular. Trees seem to line the entrance of every town in the Languedoc but this road was truly special. Mountains seemed to appear out of nowhere with sheer cliffs towering over the winding roads. Shannon and I had our noses to the windshield as we gazed upwards in awe, not speaking save for tutting to ourselves like old women. We pulled in to Luc-sur-Aude to give our necks a break and again were so surprised at how quiet the little village was. We walked through the streets wondering where the people were and if there was some apocalypse we hadn’t heard about before heading up a hill to check out the spectacle. There were vineyards for miles surrounded by mountains and despite my attempt at taking a photo of the view, I couldn’t do it justice.

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The late afternoon sun was burning above us as we headed up the mountains towards the fairytale town of Mirepoix. Our ears popped as we climbed and we pulled over to drink in even more beautiful views. The roads were so quiet and when we sat overlooking the valleys below all we could hear with the cicadas buzzing in the heat. 

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We got to Mirepoix in the evening and as we hopped out of our car and walked towards the main square, we looked at each other with shared glee, silently agreeing that we had definitely saved the best place to last. The town looked like something straight out of a Disney movie set and I half expected people to burst in to song at any moment. Shannon and I grew up on these movies and you can imagine how giddy we were to see such a place in real life. We strolled through the market stalls and circled the old town walls before picking a spot in the square where we could soak all of the colours in. We sat with the golden light on our faces, barely speaking a word but feeling incredibly content with ourselves.

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Drunk on the day we just had, we headed back to the barn for another feast until the sky. Desperate not to finish the day just yet, we dandered down to the village to watch the locals play bowls (or boules if you want to get technical) and drank coffee while the stars came out. Finally shattered, we fell in to our beds, thoroughly satisfied that sisters really do make the best travelling companion. Even if their driving might terrify us.

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Stay tuned for a few more French posts coming soon…

What Not To Worry About #33

What Not To Worry About #33

Happy Tuesday friends!! I hope this week has started off well despite the extremely autumn-y weather we have been having. It really feels like summer is falling through our fingertips now although there is a part of me that’s looking forward to lighting the fire again and seeing the colours beginning to change. I am an Autumn baby after all!

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The past weekend was spent down in Armagh catching up with old friends over a few pints and some blues music. Armagh has been hosting the 7 Hills Blues Fest for a few years now and it’s been such a great success in a town that has been encouraging more and more local festivals. It’s always good to return to my hometown but it’s even better when there’s an excuse to dance until the wee hours!

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But in even bigger news, I have been asked to be godmother for my friends’ wee bairn! It is official: I am actually a responsible adult. Catherine and Phily welcomed Dara in to the world last Monday and I got the chance to hold the wee bundle on Saturday. He is beautiful and I was so chuffed to be asked – does this mean I am a proper grown up now??

Despite the positive things that are happening in my own world, there are still a few worries that I am letting go of this week. Here are a few of them…

Not doing enough of what I love

I love being outside and throughout the summer I had hoped to get hiking the mountains near home. Unfortunately the weekends have ran away from me and so I have been living vicariously through this woman who is my new hero.

Not being successful

I wrote a piece last week about the things that shouldn’t define us and I also read this blog post by the ever-fantastic Sara Tasker who spoke about how being successful shouldn’t always be monetary. It really is a great post that definitely helped me see things from a different perspective.

Not living closer to the water

I live within a few miles of the nearest beach so I really shouldn’t complain much but after living in Australia, I really miss getting my feet sandy every day. Lately I have been making more of an effort to catch the sunset on the beach closest to me and after reading this article, I understand more than ever how being by the water is food for the soul.

Planning holiday outfits

We’re off to Bali next week and I am already trying to break each day down to outfits and then subcategorising down to:

  • cute ‘aren’t I so bohemian’ beach outfits
  • sophisticated ‘look at me in this flowy dress’ dinner outfits
  • dressy ‘we’re going out-out tonight’ outfits
  • demure ‘I am a respectful lady’ temple outfits

It’ll be a miracle if I am able to whittle all of these potential looks in to one suitcase!

Not sleepwalking when we’re on holiday

I used to sleepwalk a lot when I was a child (which thoroughly freaked out my parents) but it doesn’t happen quite as much as I’ve gotten older. However it seems to happen when I am in a new place and I remember waking up when I was inter-railing trying to get out on to a balcony in Krakow – not good! If you have any sleepwalkers in your life then reading this article might help you handle them a little better. Here’s hoping I don’t go off on any midnight danders in Bali!

 

Have a great week!

10 Things That You Should Not Let Define You

10 Things That You Should Not Let Define You

I’ll be turning 29 next month which has started a very contemplative phase I like to call the ‘pre-birthday freak-out phase’. It’s around this time that I start questioning where I am, the person I am and the person I want to become.  I know it’s all extremely deep and self-absorbed but I think these are important questions to ask ourselves every once in a while even when you’re not entering the last year of your twenties and flippin’ the feck out.

Self-identity is a can of worms that I am not qualified to open but I thought I would share something that I have come to understand during this haze of panic:

Most of us want to be the best person we can be

Right? We all want to be remembered as being kind/generous/successful people but in the quest for this achievement we can lose sight of what truly defines us. We allow ourselves to become focused on circumstances that we believe to be a crucial part of who are when in fact they are only the stepping stone to being that person. We are always changing as people through the experiences we have but we can’t benefit from these lessons if we are unable to see past our situation.

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I have been guilty of this recently. By nearing 30 I have wondered if I am where I thought I would be by this age. As a teenager I had no concept of time and predicted I would be earning a heck of a lot more, be married, own my own home with maybe a wee bairn on the way. I haven’t achieved any of that but should I let that define whether I am successful or not? Absolutely not.

I honestly believe it is my actions and treatment of others that define who I am. I believe it is the love that consumes me for my family and friends that defines me. I believe it is every experience, heartbreak or euphoric, that defines me. I believe it is the people who I have met and the stories I have heard that defines me. I am made up of all these things and will continue to be made up of more as I grow older and love more.

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Here are the things that I am choosing to not let define me and hopefully you won’t let define you either…

Your Job

As a doe-eyed university student I dreamed of becoming a hugely successful wildlife conservationist and travelling the world as David Attenborough’s understudy (I dreamed big!). Of course I could still become a conservationist if my heart desired but my career has led me down a different path that I am OK with. I am working in the financial world now, an industry I would have turned my nose up as a young environmentalist but I have chosen this career because I know it will help me progress to where I want to go. You might not like your current job or you might be a little disappointed that you’re not where you thought you would be instead focus on where this experience will get you to. I don’t allow my job or how much I earn to define me because I have a whole life outside of work that I believe contributes to who I am too.

Your Marital Status

I am a part of a group of friends who are slowly getting married off one by one and I have been beyond happy watching them commit themselves to the people they love. However, I hate the feeling that people wonder when ‘I’m next’ because it’s as if the happiness of my own relationship is then questioned because we aren’t yet married. We shouldn’t use any relationship as a measure of success, married or otherwise, because it will only lead to an unhealthy dependency on using another person to define who we are. We are all individuals and should always treat ourselves as such when considering our own worth.

Your Age

I know a few of you reading might scoff at me panicking about turning 30 but I think we are all victims of allowing our age to define us. Our age can stop us from making decisions that might change our lives because we either believe we are either too old or too young to accomplish them. We might feel we are too young to question our peers in the workplace and not worthy of the respect we deserve based on our merit. We might feel we are too old to leave a toxic relationship because it will mean we need to start all over again. Your age isn’t you. Those big bold choices in life are what define us and age should never be a barrier to that.

Your Appearance

Honestly the amount of times I have stood in front of a mirror and felt disgusted is too many times to admit but it has happened. I have scrolled through Instagram wondering why I have this pouch that will refuse to leave or why my legs are like wee stumps instead of remembering that the pouch isn’t really all that big and my legs are actually quite toned. Our appearance might be the first thing that people see but the impressions we make go beyond what we see in the mirror. When someone greets you they are looking for the kindness in your eyes, the warmth in your smile or how easy you are to talk to. Your features do not define you.

Your Health

This one may not be specific to some people but I had to include it because it’s relevant to the perception I can have of myself. Having Cystic Fibrosis means that I often feel like I have little control over my life and therefore people’s perceptions of me. I hate that I might be thought of as ‘sick’ because I don’t want my illness to define who I am or what others think of me. I am so much more than a girl who has a bad cough! And you too shouldn’t let your own health define the expectations you have of yourself. So what if you might not be a good runner? You might be better suited to yoga or a gentle swim. Ease up on the pressure and remember that just because you might not be able to run a mile in few minutes doesn’t make you capable of other great things.

Your ‘Stuff

Social media now means that instead of just reading about celebrities in magazines we now have full access to their daily lives. Product after product is being churned out to ‘influence’ us to buy while trends move so fast that sought after items are often outdated by the time we can afford to buy them. We have been a consumer society for a long time now but the pressure is getting a bit ridiculous and we shouldn’t think that buying nice things means we truly successful. I honestly believe our hard-earned money should be spent on experiences because those moments are what should define who we are and are what we will remember when we’re reminiscing in our rocking chairs (when we’re unfashionable no matter what we buy!).

How Many Friends You Have

When I was younger I tended to measure my worth by how busy my social calendar was. I loved having loads of friend and a weekend jam packed with plans which in the end left me feeling exhausted. Now that I’m approaching 30 that need to fill time isn’t quite as potent because I have decided that quality is more better than quantity when it comes to friendships. I have a small group of people around me who I adore and by putting my energy in to those relationships I am left feeling a lot more fulfilled (and I also have more time to myself which I love!). The same goes with social media too. For a while there I definitely felt under pressure to have as many followers as possible and would feel disappointed when I didn’t see the numbers increase the way I wanted. I have come to realise that you need your tribe online just as much as you do in the ‘real world’ and it doesn’t matter if you have 100 or 1 million followers, as long as you have good people engaging with you then that’s what really is rewarding.

What You Consider as Smart

My little sister Shannon is, without a doubt, the funniest person I know. She is so quick-witted that even the smartest people can’t keep up with her! Having such a quick mind means she’s always intuitive and has real common sense and yet despite all of this obvious intelligence, Shannon would never consider herself as ‘smart’. Growing up in western society taught us that intelligence is often measured by success in academia which means that we have a distorted view on what constitutes as smart. Being smart doesn’t mean you can answer all the questions in University Challenge (I have a mini Mexican wave if I get one answer!), have a degree or listen to classical music. You might have a brain for business (like my Dad who is dyslexic) or you might have a true talent with numbers. Don’t define yourself by how many books you’ve read but rather how you use the talents you know you do have.

Your Mistakes

Oh Jaysus, how often I have punished myself for the stupid things I have done or said. I have tortured myself thinking that people’s opinions of me have changed forever on the basis of a single act of stupidity especially as a reckless youth. I have started to discover though that people actually forget mistakes a lot quicker than you do and it’s how you recover from these mistakes that define you the most. Don’t worry that people will always attach your mistake to because they won’t.

Your Race/Religion/Sexuality

Growing up in Northern Ireland, people often used religion to identify themselves and even today there can still be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ language used by many. I was brought up as Catholic and my boyfriend was brought up as Protestant and although neither of us would describe ourselves as religious, it was still a bit of an adjustment for a few family members. In a perfect world we would all be viewed as the same but of course racial tensions are stronger than ever, sectarianism in NI still exists and LGBT members of the community still lack the rights that all humans should have. Despite this we should not let our race/religion/sexuality define who we are. We are more than just a label and if we are united in encouraging that mindset then maybe one day we can live in a society that starts seeing the person behind the label.

 

Have you any thoughts on this? Is there anything in your life that you refuse to let define you?? 

 

What Not To Worry About #32

What Not To Worry About #32

Happy Monday folks!

A new week is here and I am clinging on to this so-called summer with dear life. The sun has almost certainly been taking too many breaks behind the clouds and in the midst of an overcast-induced temper tantrum, Andrew and I impulsively booked flights for a holiday in less than 3 weeks. Yes, we are jetting off to freakin’ BALI people!! I am beyond excited and every day since I have woken up with butterflies just thinking of palm trees and crystal clear waters to swim in.

I promise I won’t torture you with too much gloating because I know a lot of you have already been and gone on your main trip of the year and are more than likely experiencing a very real case of the post-holiday blues. For this I would prescribe a weekend break in the autumn. Book it now so you have something, anything to keep you going until our Indian Summer arrives (she better). In the meantime try and enjoy the fact that it’s still warm enough to hear lawn mowers on a Saturday (my favourite summer sound) and there are still a few festivals happening to keep us occupied even if the rain clouds do decide to break.

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Bali-madness aside, things have been pretty dandy in all other areas and I am determined to ride this wave of positivity for as long as I can because I know life ain’t always this easy. I tend to be not so great at letting myself enjoy the good times because there’s always that bitch on my back telling me that something is going to come along and screw the whole thing up (is this an Irish thing??). That bitch has been fairly mute recently and man it’s nice to get some peace. I am happy with work, happy with Andrew lecturing me on his newest philosophies (his newest one is that we are living in a simulation – no joke), happy with my friendships and happy with my car that has no exhaust or working driver’s window.

With this lucky streak in mind I have decided to add a few things to the list of things I won’t be worrying about. Check it out:

How wonderfully united Northern Ireland really can be
Belfast Pride took place on Saturday and the city was tarted up in exactly the way it should be for the festivities. Rainbow flags were adorned on buildings and business, balloons and glitter filled the streets. Gay marriage isn’t legal here yet and the fight will continue until it is but seeing a city so united in and inclusive of all people was so uplifting. Plenty of hope here!

Being a fridge control freak
I accidentally chucked out a slice of pizza that Andrew had been saving for his evening snack last night and almost died. I tend to gut out the fridge on a Sunday and just wasn’t thinking of the consequences of my actions apparently. The man barely spoke to me for a good hour afterwards and I quickly learned that no matter how old the pizza is YOU DO NOT THROW IT OUT BEFORE CONSULTATION. EVER.
People who don’t leave back shopping trolleys

I saw a friend post a Facebook status about this and couldn’t have agreed more. And then this article came in to my life and blew my mind. Return your trolleys people!

Never feeling at home
As a person who has lived in a fair few places since leaving my childhood home at 18, I struggle with the concept of home. I could dedicate a whole post to this but until then I give you this article. This piece of writing warmed my heart so much so that it felt like home in itself. And she talks about tea which is just about perfect for me.

Not having my own home
We rent our wee house and although it suits us for where we are right now, there are times that I would just love to rip everything out and renovate it as my own. It’s so difficult to add personality to house that you can’t necessarily to do too much to especially when you have a lemon-coloured bath suite (barf) but when I do have my own house I want it to look a little like this one.

Have a great week!!

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Local Favourites: Dunluce Castle & Mussenden Temple

Local Favourites: Dunluce Castle & Mussenden Temple

I think there are a few things that come to mind when foreigners think of Ireland (according to Hollywood anyway):

  1. Rain. Lots of rain.
  2. Green fields as far as the eye can see.
  3. Old men drinking Guinness
  4. A random person playing the fiddle in the pub
  5. Castle ruins dotted everywhere

We Irish might roll our eyes at this glamourisation of our wee isle especially when a plastic poncho-covered American tourist insists on defining themselves as Irish or asks where the best pint of Guinness is (I usually direct them to the Harp Bar or The Duke of York). But the fact is that most of the expectations of Ireland are usually about right. It does rain here. A lot. And most aul fellas in a pub probably will be propped up by a pint of the black stuff. And we really are lucky enough to have hundreds of castle ruins scattered across our hills and rugged coastlines.

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But having so much history close to home can be a hindrance here because we can overlook these beautiful castles on our doorstep just because they are familiar. I grew up in Armagh, the ancient capital of Ireland and my childhood home was about a mile or two away from a burial ground that dates back thousands of years. I only just visited this site again for the first time since primary school and felt so ashamed that I’d forgotten about such an important piece of my history.

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I lived abroad for about 6 years and I think coming back to live in Ireland awoke me to just how many fascinating sites there are here that I haven’t even been to. I have been determined to rectify this since and so on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago I set off with a begrudging boyfriend to explore the ruins of Dunluce Castle and Mussenden Temple.

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You might not know the names of these coastal monuments but you will recognise them especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. It’s difficult to find a place along this part of the Irish coastline that hasn’t been filmed for the series yet which is evident by the throngs of tour buses that descend on these shores in the summer hoping to catch a glimpse of a set now famous around the world.

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Our first stop was Dunluce Castle, probably one of the most famous ruins in the North. The castle hangs precariously off the cliffs of Antrim as if carved out of the cliffs themselves but even in its decay it still casts a foreboding figure on the jagged coastline. The castle was first built just over 500 years ago by the McQuillan clan but was seized by the MacDonnell’s from Scotland in the 1550’s who later swore loyalty to Elizabeth I and became the Earls of Antrim. Today its ruins bear a reminder of a time when every piece of land was a prize to be won with consequences more violent than any Game of Thrones episode (GOT fans might recognise the castle as the home of the Greyjoy’s). But who needs TV eh?

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When we arrived at the castle the sun was uncharacteristically beaming down which meant there were even more tourists than usual. To avoid competing for a good shot of the ruins amongst the crowds, I wandered down the road to a nearby field and clambered over the gate. I might have been trespassing (I looked for signs, I swear) but the field was empty of animals and I was able to get uninterrupted views of the castle with the waves crashing against the cliffs beneath.

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After the castle we drove a few miles along the coast to Whitepark Bay to Bothy, a wee timber gem that looks like a homestead plucked from the American Midwest. I had heard a few things about this joint before but I had no idea just how charmed I would be by the food and the people there. There is a real warm welcome upon entering mixed in with a laid-back atmosphere that feels border-line Californian. We were there on a summer’s day so the doors were thrown open to allow the sea breeze to cool the place down while the back was opened up for the sun worshipper’s to eat outside.

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Andrew and I both ordered chicken melts with tobacco onions which we devoured within a few minutes and we spent the next half hour bathing in the afternoon heat not wanting to move at all. We noticed a pizza oven outside too so I would imagine this would be a great spot for a summer’s evening and a few drinks if you didn’t have far to travel. As well as that there’s also a wee stove inside too so it would be super cosy for a winter’s day – they’ve got it all covered here!!

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After being suitably fed and feeling super relaxed we hopped back in the car and headed towards Mussenden Temple which was about a half hour away. The temple forms part of the Downhill Demesne and although it has aged much better than the manor, it is perhaps built at an even more precipitous position than Dunluce – we Irish love our dramatics don’t we?! It was built in 1785 and was to be used as a summer library in memory of the Earl’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden. Imagine cosying up to a book with almost 360 views of the ferocious Atlantic – you wouldn’t leave! These days you can actually hire the temple out as a wedding venue which would be an absolute dream location for anyone – booklover or not.

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On our way to the temple we actually picked up a hitchhiker – Robin from Toulouse – who was hitchhiking his way along the Irish coast with a tent and not much else. We brought him as far as Limavady but took him along to Mussenden which he wasn’t aware even existed. It was so lovely to discover the temple alongside a foreigner because I felt like I was experiencing it as a tourist on holiday. With the sun warming my back and standing on the cliff edge admiring the views out towards Scotland, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. How lucky we are to have all of this on our doorstep.

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A Weekender’s Guide to London

A Weekender’s Guide to London

Just over a month ago, Andrew and I scooted over to London for a long weekend to celebrate his 29th birthday. He had been feeling a little wary about marking the occasion since he was starting to mourn his twenties like he was already an elderly man but I left him little choice!

We had both been to London a few times before but not as a couple so it was lovely to explore new parts of the city together. There is such an amazing energy in London, an atmosphere that picks you up and runs with you. Through streets heaving with the stories of millions. A few people were surprised at us deciding to visit after the horror the city has experienced in recent months but it’s resilience and the spirit of the people there is palpable. Fear just isn’t an option.

Our afternoons were spent lazily strolling from one park to another (with plenty of coffee and cocktails thrown in to save our wee hooves) and evenings were for catching up with old pals. Getting around London is so easy and now you can just swipe your debit card in the Underground cutting out all the hassle of getting train tickets and Oyster cards. We flew in to Gatwick Airport and just hopped on the Southern Rail to London Victoria for a standard rail price. Quick tip: don’t get the Gatwick Express because it’s £15 more expensive and is only 5 minutes faster.

We discovered lots of new places on this trip so I thought I would share a few that really stood out for us. London is huge but we packed in a lot without feeling like we were rushing around. We also got really lucky with the weather so we tried to stay outside as much as possible, avoiding most of the museums I would normally visit on a cloudy day. Of course there is so much to do but this was a great itinerary for a sunny weekend. Feel free to pick and choose a few things from it and I hope you have just as good a time as we did!

Where We Stayed

London accommodation can be super expensive so to save a little cash we stayed with Andrew’s friend our first night. As much of a life saver it can be to have a friend in the big smoke, it’s not hugely romantic so we checked in to the Grange Hotel at St Paul’s on the Saturday (a surprise birthday present for Andrew!). It was such a treat to stay somewhere a little swanky and they even had some wine and cupcakes left out as a birthday gift – so thoughtful!

 

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The room was super cosy to come back to and the bed was almost too good to leave in the mornings. The breakfast made it all worthwhile – there was so much variety you could take hours over breakfast if you wanted! We loved being able to come back to such luxury after a day exploring on our feet and we headed straight for the spa in our dressing gowns to soak our weary bones. I would definitely recommend this place if you can book it. Weekends tend to be cheaper because there’s less business-folk around so make sure to look out for deals then!

Where We Ventured

Friday

We landed in the morning so after leaving our bags off we went searching for some late breakfast. We tried to get in to The Breakfast Club in Soho but the line was ridiculous so we dandered off to Carnaby Market instead for a huge diner-style brekkie.

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After eating and strolling through the decorated alleyways, we walked towards the Natural History Museum. I’ve been to the museum before but Andrew hadn’t so I knew it couldn’t be missed. It’s easy to spend a whole day in there (especially if you have kids) but because the weather was so good we didn’t want to stay inside for too long.

 

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When we had managed to see both the life-size T-Rex and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition we reemerged in to the sun and made our way to Hyde Park. Visiting parks is my favourite thing to do in a new city because even tourists can blend in as locals. Bodies were lazily strewn across the grass basking in the afternoon heat and we found the perfect spot to have a nap.

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Feeling energised after our siesta, we headed towards Notting Hill via Kensington Palace. The street behind Will and Kate’s gaff has some of the most amazing mansions I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but peak through the fences or over the walls to catch a glimpse of how the other half live (pretty well apparently). It was a fair walk from the Palace to Notting Hill but watching the buildings change from ordinary brick to candy-floss heaven made me glad that we were on foot.

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We kept going towards Portobello Road to check out the market and refuel i.e. welcome in happy hour. I also made sure to check out St. Luke’s Mews which is just parallel to the markets and an absolute Insta delight. You will recognise the buildings I’m sure since every London Instagrammer worth their salt has snapped the houses before and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of super delicious houses!

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Saturday

On Saturday we were in a mad rush to meet my cousin and her new fiancé for brunch in Hoxton which wasn’t easy since we were coming from Clapham Junction and the heat was already melting us. We managed to just be a half hour late (sorry Camille!) and then wandered around the Hoxton Markets towards Brick Lane.

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I loved Brick Lane despite the fact it’s revered as a hipster haven. There is such a great energy around and the vintage shops were incredible if a little overwhelming (I’m not used to such high-end vintage delights!). There is music filling every alleyway as well as the smell of food from all of the carts dotting every corner. After exploring the area and sinking back a much needed Pimm’s we headed towards Spitalfields Markets. I honestly could spend a weekend just exploring London’s markets and come home a happy woman!

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We had one last pitstop before heading back to the hotel which was Dunstan-in-the-East, one of my favourite spots of the trip. It’s a bombed out church found amongst skyscrapers that has been reinvented as an urban garden, providing a sanctuary for those looking to escape the hustle outside it’s walls. If I lived in London I could be found here often I think.

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Sunday

We were feeling a little dusty after our night out on Saturday (home at 4am!) so were a little slower to start. We managed to peel ourselves away from our cloud of a bed and headed towards the Sherlock Holmes’ Museum around lunchtime. Now, I freely admit that the museum is an absolute tourist trap and the admission at £15 is a little steep but there is such attention to detail here I couldn’t help but feel impressed.

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After exploring Sherlock’s house we escaped to Regent’s Park to rest our hangovers and find shade from the heat. We walked over the bridge and past the pedalos towards St. John’s Lodge Gardens, a secret haven within the park that is without the crowds of a sunny day. We made daisy chains and waited until we felt ready for a little more walking.

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Feeling a little bit more alive we hopped on a quick journey on the tube towards Little Venice, a canal network that is found in a quiet leafy suburb that feels a million miles away from the city. There are canal boats here that are of different sizes and colours but all equally beautiful. It’s evident that many of them are used principally as homes with mini gardens on the roofs and flowers everywhere. I would imagine it would be stunning in the autumn when the leaves that hang over the boats turn bright orange before disappearing in to the river.

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Monday

Our last day was another scorcher which made it that bit harder to leave. We managed to score free tickets to St Paul’s cathedral from the hotel (win!) and hopped across the road for a quick tour. It was a lot bigger that I had thought and so beautiful, especially the ceilings which sparkled in the sunlight and made my neck ache from all the craning. Andrew was even brave enough to go to the very top of the dome while I waited outside like the wimp I am!

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We headed towards Covent Garden via the Thames to enjoy a little bit more of the cityscape before our flight. We strolled through the shops and listened to the classical music reverberating across the walls from a quartet in the basement and took a break from the heat in one of the cafés.

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Our last stop was Neal’s Yard, another Instagrammer’s delight despite it being so tiny. It’s gorgeous and I wished I could’ve stayed there the rest of the afternoon but alas we had a flight to catch. Next time, maybe.

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Where We Ate

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Boqueria, Brixton

My mouth filled up with water as I was writing this just remembering the suckling pig alone. It’s a tapas place with the best service we had throughout the trip and it made for a lovely birthday dinner for Andrew. I would definitely come back here the next time I’m in London.

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Monty’s Deli, Hoxton

This is a fairly new joint and very popular so be sure to book a table! We ate brunch here with my cousin (I had the scrambled eggs with lox – so good!) in one of the booths that made me feel like I was in New York even though I’ve never been to New York.

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Honest Burger, Liverpool Street

When we go on holiday we need to fit at least one burger meal in to keep old Andy happy and man was he happy after this burger. It was perfect, not a thing wrong with it but afterwards we were in the mood for something sweet and it turns out they don’t serve desserts!! WTF? Wouldn’t hold it against them though. Oh, and their cocktails are the bomb-diggity.

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Bill’s Cafe, Baker Street

We had brunch here on Sunday and I was so happy because it was the perfect Sunday brunch spot. The atmosphere was so welcoming and relaxing I could’ve stayed all afternoon. The menu was perfect and I wanted to go for everything on there (that could have been the hangover though) but settled on avocados with poached eggs on toast. Never a bad decision!

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Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

Our friends took us here on our last night and although Andrew wasn’t a huge fan, I adored the dumplings. I fell in love with dumplings when travelling in Australia (Chinatown in Adelaide specifically) and Leong’s reignited that long lost love. Next time I would just order a few different dumplings with rice since they were by far the best thing I ate there.

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Wahaca, St. Paul’s

I will never say no to a quesadilla especially the chicken club quesadilla at Wahaca! Holy Moses it is delicious and super filling too which makes it a fairly cheap lunch. We ate in the St. Paul’s branch which is in the One New Change building. If you go there for lunch you should definitely pop up to the rooftop terrace where you can get uninterrupted views of the city with St. Paul’s cathedral towering overhead. Just don’t go on a Friday evening because we heard there are queues from the ground floor which is a little much.

Where We Drank

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The Distillery, Portobello Road

The Distillery was a gin bar we stopped in to on our walk up Portobello Road which was beautiful on a sunny day. The interior is stunning however the drinks were on the more expensive side. Not a huge shock when you’re in London but my drink was tiny and for £8 I thought it was fairly steep. A nice spot for one drink though!

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Hope & Anchor, Brixton

We hopped across to this spot after our delicious meal in Boqueria. It has a great outdoors area out the back with beach huts perfect for a group of people on a summer’s afternoon. The beer garden closed at around 10pm though (we weren’t too sure why) and the bar turned in to a club then which was too much for us oldies so bear this in mind if you go during the evening.

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Boiler House Food Hall, Brick Lane

We didn’t eat here but had a drink out the back in the beer garden which was buzzing with people. I had a Pimm’s to get in the spirit of things and felt really wild drinking at 12pm. Beer gardens are the best on holiday especially when the sun is out so would definitely recommend this spot on a good day.

Translate, Shoreditch

No photo for this place since we were out with a group of friends and fairly well oiled but I had to include it for the music alone. It has the best cheesy 90’s music so if you’re not in to that sort of thing steer clear at the weekends! We loved it though and sang our wee lungs out in between sips of our cocktails.

 

And that is the round-up for London! I hope you can make use of some of the knowledge we picked up on our quick break and if you have any insider trips of you’re own, please feel free to share in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Pink Wellingtons
What Not To Worry About #31

What Not To Worry About #31

A wee bit of a late post this week as I still feel like I’m catching up after my quick break in France with the little sister. What was supposed to be a relaxing break ended up a little more hectic than planned – turns out driving a tiny rental car along steep gorge roads isn’t all that tranquil! I’m planning on writing a few posts so I can share some of the beautiful sights we got to see on our journey while including some photos of our aunt and uncle’s house who we stayed with (an absolute French dream of a place which deserves to be on the pages of some chic magazine).

It’s so lovely to get to travel with my sister now that we’re adults and no longer act like the monsters we were as teenagers. When we were growing up the three of us girls would fight like feral animals (I’ve broken Shannon’s nose twice, I kid you not) and stealing clothes became such a fine art that I used to keep mine locked in the boot of my car! After a bit of maturing we’ve now become best friends and are fiercely loyal to one another. I wouldn’t dream of saying anything to hurt her (or her nose) now and she is genuinely the funniest woman I know. Even though we had a few hairy moments on our tour through the French countryside, we were never far away from another laughing fit. She also appreciates a photo opportunity as much as I do which made me feel a little less guilty about hopping out of the car every few miles. It was a wonderful wee trip and I can’t wait to share some of our stories.

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Now that I’m home and utterly depressed with the rain which seems intent on hanging around, I’m planning my next getaway. Andrew and I have spent the last few nights researching ideas for destinations and we’ve been leaning towards Costa Rica, Indonesia or Malaysia. Basically anywhere that has palm trees and is cheap enough to get around! If you’ve been to any of these places or even have your own suggestions, please throw them my way! I always love to hear travel stories and experiences and it might help us make a decision faster 🙂

When Shannon and I were away I was reminded of a few things that bug the hell out of me when I’m travelling. I thought I would share a few in this week’s ‘What Not To Worry About’ post in case I’m not alone!

People who don’t try to speak the local tongue

I know French people are notorious for being rude to people who make no effort to speak French but to be honest I don’t blame them. I cringe when I hear people just shouting louder in their own language (most likely English) to try and communicate instead of trying the basic words of the locals. I didn’t encounter a single rude French person on our trip and I think it might have been because I tried my hardest to start a conversation in French before succumbing to “Parlez-vous Anglais??”. My French wasn’t great but making a little effort to learn was appreciated and made for a much warmer response.

People who don’t separate their liquids before security

WHY??? Everyone knows the drill now even the most unseasoned traveler so why are there still people who ask for a plastic zip-bag just as we’re about to go through the detectors?! They waited through the entire queue until the crucial point when people think they’re almost free from the tension and these tyrants hold the show up for even longer. It’s just not cool so let’s just all go as prepared as we can eh?

Airport Prices

Oh aye, £2.50 for a bottle of water? No worries. £5 for a shitty sandwich?? Of course! Why do airports think it’s OK to rob people at their most vulnerable? When they’re sweaty and tired and desperate to grab anything in case they might starve on their 2 hour flight. There is so much pressure (especially when I have to run to the gate) and there are times when I’m sitting on my airplane seat realising that I’ve spent £20 on absolute crap just because I thought I would need variety. It also seems to be the only time that I buy a multi-pack of Werther’s Originals.

Take Off

I used to suffer from panic attacks when I was younger and I had a major one as I was boarding my first long-haul flight to San Francisco with my girlfriends. One look at the huge plane suddenly had me looking for the nearest exit – how were we supposed to get in the air in that massive yoke?! Luckily I had been provided with four Diazepam tablets to try and soothe the attacks, two for the way over and two on the way home. Of course I hoofed the lot like they were smarties (DO NOT EVER DO THIS!) which weirdly only subdued the fear and didn’t send me to sleep like I had hoped. I’ve now learned how to manage my panic attacks but I still get very nervous as the plane is taking off. Usually I’ll have Andrew’s hand clasped so hard his fingers are white but when I’m flying alone I’ll put on a playlist of all the music that makes me happy all the while trying not to think of being in the metal box hurtling thousands of feet in to the sky.

Airplane Toilets

Anyone else petrified of the flushing sound??? I refuse to flush when I’m still sitting in case my ass gets wedged for all of eternity. Or even worse, that I’m sucked in to whatever cesspit that is used for the waste of nervous fliers. Or even more worse, that I’m sucked in and then spewed out of the plane covered in aforementioned waste. These are genuine thoughts I have every time I go in to an airplane toilet. That and also imagining if anyone ever actually does the dirty in the toilets. I mean, could you imagine the glamour of getting lucky over a Ryanair toilet?? There’s a club I won’t ever be joining.

Have a great weekend folks!

John’s Banana Bread Bonanza

John’s Banana Bread Bonanza

A sign that you’re getting older is the sheer impossibility of organising a get together with your friends. Weekends suddenly become jam packed with familial duties and weeknights are usually spent in a crumpled heap on the sofa, half-consciously scrolling through a screen. My friend John and I had been planning an evening of baking for the last three months (taking the biscuit just a little #bestpunever) and we don’t even have children to blame it on! Luckily we finally got our act together and locked in Monday for our reunion which was to be spent in the kitchen making delicious banana bread.

 

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And man, oh man was it yummy. We managed to turn my little galley kitchen in to a pop-up boulangerie with flour whirling and the smell of cinnamon hanging in the air. I acted as sous chef which involved handing over ingredients when needed and giving things the odd stir (so professional). Watching John in action was such a treat because as a recent financial administrator-turned-baker-extraordinaire, he has such a passion for baking and clearly loves what he does. It’s such a brave move to change careers like he has and he’s now baking for the most popular restaurants in Belfast – a move that paid off!

 

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So many crinkles, maybe it’s time I bought an iron? 
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After tasting the bread I begged John to let me share the recipe. It is so moreish and although I had his help, it is definitely not difficult for a beginner baker. The hardest part is having the patience to wait for it to bake! He has also passed on a few insider tricks which makes it very easy to get right the first time. The smell alone is pure heaven – the combination of cinnamon and ginger filled our house for hours! As we tucked in to our slice, steam still emanating from the loaf, I realised that maybe the best get-togethers are worth the wait. Especially when they involve delicious food.

 

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Yes he can bake and yes he is single 😉

I’ve included the recipe below for you to enjoy but if you have any questions or suggestions of your own please feel free to comment! Happy baking!


John’s Banana Bread Bonanza

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Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 4 x soft bananas (the browner the better before they get to complete mush!)
  • 3 x medium eggs
  • 50ml buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 x 900g loaf tin
  • 1 x stand mixer
  • 1 x mixing bowl
  • Baking sheets

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C
  2. Using the stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together
  3. Add in soft bananas and beat for 40 seconds on a medium speed
  4. Take off the mixer and sieve in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, bicarbonate soda and salt. Gently fold in ingredients using a spatula.
  5. Add buttermilk and mix in with spatula until fully incorporated
  6. Grease the loaf tin with butter and line with a baking sheet
  7. Pour the mixture in to the tin
  8. Place in preheated oven for 5-10 mins and then turn the heat down to 170C and cook for another 25 minutes
  9. Test the mixture with a skewer and once it comes out clean the bread is done
  10. Enjoy with a big mug of tea!

 

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Cuddle Fairy
What Not To Worry About #30

What Not To Worry About #30

Happy Monday my internet friends! How are we this Monday??? Feeling positive and ready to tackle the week ahead? It is so much easier to feel in charge and capable of great things when the sun is shining on us so I am savouring every second of vitamin D that I can get. In fact, I am feeling so ballsy that I actually signed up to run 5km in September and had my first training session this afternoon – a pretty great way to start the week if you ask me.

 

Running has never been my thing and I have been in awe of people who praise it’s benefits since every time I run I actually feel even more unhealthy. Of course having Cystic Fibrosis means that my wee lungs find running a bit tricky and getting my breathing in control can be a struggle (my airways can feel really tight like I’m breathing through a straw which is as unpleasant as it sounds). A few puffs of my inhaler can help a bit but the whole experience is usually a not-so-nice one and I’ve been put off trying for fear that I’ll always feel a little let down by own body.

 

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But by avoiding running or any intense cardio I was giving in to this fear which is something I’ve always tried to avoid. CF can take away many things and it can be difficult to ever feel in control of my own health but what I can do is move and keep on moving. I am lucky that I have a strong body able to withstand all the medication, hospital admissions and countless coughing fits. I shouldn’t feel let down because I am afraid.

 

Instead I am saying  “Fuck it!” and pushing this body as far as I know it can go. I won’t be judging or comparing myself to others but will be taking big gulps of air to the deepest parts of my lungs just knowing I am making them stronger. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1km, 5km or 26km, every step is a step I am grateful for. I might be wheezing by the end of it and I will definitely be coughing a lot but I will be proud of myself. It’s better than disappointment, right?

 

And here’s a few more worries that I’m shirking this week…

 

Rosé

Summer time suddenly means that drinking pure vinegar is acceptable and I am baffled. Unless there is some delicious rosé that I have missed out on? I’m not so sure.

 

People who talk when they run

Another reason why I avoided running for so long was because when I ever ran with anyone they friggin’ talked the entire time! Like I can talk when I’m running??!! I have no time for chit-chat when my entire brain is focusing on breathing alone, thank you very much so please save the natter for the end when I might be able to formulate words again.

 

Ballet pumps in the summer

You honestly don’t want to be within 5 feet of me when I come home and kick these bad boys off at the end of the day. Woo-eeee it ain’t pretty!!

 

Crap underwear

I always mean to invest in good quality underwear but I also end up buying multipacks from Primark that become discoloured and ill-fitted after a few washes. Any folks have any advice on where to get underwear that doesn’t have a classy diamanté on the front???

 

People who save their bath products

The same goes for people who save Easter eggs and Christmas presents. Use them!

 

Have a lovely week and fingers crossed for a bit more sun!

Is It Wrong To Be Selfish?

Is It Wrong To Be Selfish?

Last weekend I had a full weekend without any real plans. I woke up on Saturday with the sun filtering through the curtains, stretched my legs out and relished the thought of not having a whirlwind itinerary ahead of me. Living an hour away from my family and most of my friends means that my weekends often involve me rushing down the motorway in my car and trying to catch up with as many loved ones as I can. While it’s always lovely to see my favourite people, I am usually knackered by the end of it and recently I’ve been feeling deflated on a Sunday evening because the weekend had rushed by me in a series of hurried get-togethers.

 

I accepted long ago that I am an eternal people-pleaser however I realised recently that the reason I had been sacrificing my weekends mooching about my own home and lie-in’s in my own bed was because I felt guilty. I had imposed these obligations upon myself because I was afraid what others may think of me if I dedicated a whole weekend to myself and didn’t make the effort to see anyone down at ‘home’. I have this very real fear of appearing to be self-involved and this has led me to live a life that doesn’t always feel like my own.

 

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But what is truly wrong with being selfish? In a time where self-care is the new YOLO, it is becoming more and more apparent that selfishness is not a quality to be revered but in fact requires a lot of courage to embrace. Our generation might be regarded as the most self-aware but this self-awareness is a result of constant competition whether it be through social media, job insecurity or the sheer amount of options we have to choose from.  While having these options is a luxury our parents (or grandparents at least) fought for us to have, there comes with that the overwhelming feeling of never being enough. Am I working hard enough? Have I travelled enough? Am I good enough friend/partner/parent? Am I happy enough? The gap between the life we are expected to live and the life we are truly living seems to be widening which has resulted in more of us experiencing anxiety that is specific to the social changes our generation are facing.

 

My problem seems to be the need to keep others happy. By imposing these expectations upon myself to be the best version of myself that I can be, I have ended up losing touch with what truly makes me happy. I recently read an article by Raymond Nourmand who eloquently put that the less someone’s reaction affects you, the more selfless a place you are giving from therefore in order to be truly selfless we must be truly selfish. Who knew eh???

 

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The next time you are feeling selfish for prioritising your own happiness, give yourself a good shake and instead congratulate yourself! By making the effort to fulfill your needs you are actually caring about yourself which is the ultimate step to being a better person. And this applies to me and my moments of guilt when I haven’t trekked home for the weekend. Taking the time to do something (or nothing) for myself will only make me a nicer person to be around and the time I will be spending with family and friends will be feel a lot more enjoyable.

 

If you identify with anything I have said and would like some ideas on how you can be a more selfish person, I’ve included some tips on when you should choose you over anything else.

 

When you’re too exhausted to meet a friend

Don’t force yourself no matter how long it might have been since you last saw them. They deserve the best version of you, not the too-tired-to-function version who will be ready to sleep after the first sip of wine. Good friends will always understand.

 

When you’re stressed in work

Taking annual leave during a stressful time in work can feel like you’re going against your instincts but this should only highlight how important it is that you need to take some time out. We are all entitled to these days off so you shouldn’t feel guilty in the slightest. By taking a few days off to unwind (and for the love of Jeebus do not check your work emails) you will feel so much more capable to handle the difficult tasks you had left behind (and they actually might not be as difficult now that you’re chilled!).

 

When you’re a parent

I was thinking that the parents amongst you might have chuckled to yourself when reading this post since you have the least amount of time to be selfish as anyone! I don’t have children so please forgive me for trying to give any advice on parenting but I do think that to be the kind of parent you had hoped to be (before the permanent exhaustion and reality hit you like a tonne of bricks), you have to put yourself first now and again. Most parents have a decent enough support system through friends/family/partners and so you should never feel guilty about using this. Make a point of scheduling some time on your own once a week – even just for an hour – like you would any other essential appointment. You are still you and you deserve to remind yourself of that as often as possible.

 

When you can’t say no

If you’re a people-pleaser like me this can be a tough one. I hate letting people down and will often find myself in difficult situations just because I can’t say no. The thing I have started to learn is that people won’t immediately dislike me if I can’t always do what they want me to do and will probably forget it fairly quickly (while I stress about it for days after). If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. Simples, right?

 

When you’re on holiday

Going on a trip with people can be the best way to share memories but there can sometimes be a clash in terms of expectations. Some people love to lie on their backs as close to the sun as possible and others like to cram in culture in to every minute. There’s no shame in either but there’s also no shame in parting ways for the day and doing the things you want to do. Travelling is the perfect opportunity to live the carefree life you don’t usually get to live at home so to avoid any disappointment don’t be afraid to speak up and do your own thing.

 

Have a lovely weekend folks!